When asked if he believed Australia had taken their eyes off the ball, he replied: “I guess you could say that. That’s a fair enough statement. I think she [Ruby] would probably feel the same. It was a hotly contested area in that part of the Pacific, the battles right next to it were pretty gruesome.
Amid allegations of foreign policy failure, the eve of Anzac Day deserves a tale of the achievements of a remarkable woman who was the only Australian woman to observe the coasts during the Second World War.
Ruby Olive Jones was born in Sydney in 1891 and was working as a saleswoman when she married laundry operator Skov Boye, who had previously lived in the Solomon Islands. They had two boys, Don (Phill’s father) and Ken.
Skov accepted the position of island manager for a logging company in Vanikoro in 1936. Ships arrived from Melbourne four times a year to collect logs and deliver supplies. It was an island outpost, she said in an interview, where giant butterflies chased birds and crocodiles snatched up the pet cat.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, Vanikoro was part of a coastal surveillance network in the South Pacific. Both boys were sent to school in Sydney and the island was evacuated. When the radio operator left, a 50-year-old woman, Mrs. Boye, took the role. She and her husband were the only remaining non-Solomons.
In an interview on Snapper Island in Sydney in 1978, she said: “I learned to read the instrument panel for weather reports, there were a lot of storms and hurricanes. Shortly after, it was learned that Pearl Harbor had been bombed [on December 7, 1941] and we were a little scared about it.
“I was sending messages to Tulagi [in the Solomons] where they were compiled, then Tulagi was bombed, so I was advised by coded messages to use Morse code, which I had been practicing since a ‘Jap’ called me and told me to get out or else.
“They [the Royal Australian Navy] thought it best for me to wear a uniform and the Navy made me Honorary Third Officer of WRANS [Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service]. It was just in case I was captured, otherwise I would be considered a spy. He was dropped by parachute and he fell like a big pearl into the sea. They also sent cosmetics. I texted back saying, “Thanks for the treats, I’m a crazy beauty now.”
“It was very scary. You could hear the roar of submarines on the reef. We would see ‘Jap’ planes flying overhead. Later they bombed one of the plane supply ships that was in the harbour.
When she received threats from a Japanese commander on her radio frequency, defensive measures were taken. According to a chapter on Boye in the book Australia’s Unsung Heroes and Heroines“At that point the other Coastwatchers scrambled the airwaves, deleted the rest of the message and told the Japanese operator ‘in language they wouldn’t repeat to a lady’ exactly what the Japanese commander could do. “
At one point, she was taken off the island for treatment for shingles and “four young Americans” took her place while she was away for three weeks.
Petar Djokovic, writing in the navy Semaphore publication, reports: “Such was the appreciation of Ruby’s efforts that Admiral William Halsey [a fleet admiral in the United States Navy] called him to Vanikoro. He arrived in a seaplane and a small group of officers came ashore to be greeted by Skov. Halsey introduced himself: “My name is Halsey. I didn’t stop for long, just thought I’d like to call and meet this wonderful woman who runs the radio.
She learned from her radio that the war was over and was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1946 at a ceremony in Suva.
Ruby survived Skov and also a second husband. She lived alone in her home in Penshurst for 30 years before moving into a care home aged 96.
Phill Boye said his grandmother died aged 99 in 1990 and was always happy to talk about her experiences. “She was a pretty tough woman,” he said.
An accommodation block at the Defense Force Academy in Canberra is named in his honour.
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